GREEN HERON FISHING: GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS


GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

GREEN HERON FISHING

GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS

The brackish pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is generally a reliable place to find waterbirds. For those birding on South Abaco (in many respects, one big hotspot) Gilpin is definitely worth a visit at almost any time. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…**) and (b) it is private land. However, the owner Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel!

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see the bird perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans gradually forwards, beak dipping closer to the water, the body more streamlined to look at. The procedure is beginning in the image above.

The stance means ‘small fish – 5 feet off – moving left and closing – prepare to strike‘. As the prey unwittingly approaches, the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker and closer to strike.

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly (not on my type of camera anyway). But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held in that long, clamping beak. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to watch some lesser yellowlegs nearby. Some minutes later, the heron was still contentedly fishing from its vantage point. 

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include black-necked stilts, little blue heron, great blue heron, tricolored heron, snowy egret, reddish egret, yellow-crowned night heron, the relatively rare and very shy sora, hordes of white-cheeked pintails, northern pintails, lesser yellowlegs, belted kingfisher, turkey vulture, smooth-billed ani, American kestrel, Bahama woodstar, Cuban emerald, Mucovy duck (Perry’ pet!) – and the green heron of course.

As a bonus, Gilpin has become an increasingly regular stop for raucous flocks of Abaco parrots. Rarer species found there include American flamingo (rare vagrant), brown pelican, double-crested cormorants, and limpkins. On the beach 5 minutes walk away, there are usually shorebirds including rare piping plovers, Wilson’s plovers, turnstones; gull and tern species; and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds flying high over the water.

FOR MORE ABOUT GREEN HERONS: SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

** I realise that strictly I should be saying ‘flat’ here, but that might be confusing for Euro-readers, who would understand that to mean that we had rented (or purchased) an apartment in a larger dwelling house containing similar accommodation. 

All photos, Keith Salvesen except the cute chick, Charlie Skinner; and the cute cartoon GH, Birdorable…

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Charles Skinner)

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO


Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 10 (Keith Salvesen)

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO

We were at Gilpin Pond to watch for Herons and Egrets. Bahama Pintails were a given, Black-necked Stilts were likely – but one never quite knows what Ardeidae will turn up. There was a snowy egret fishing peacefully at the north end of the pond. We were a little way off, on a small wooden jetty. Slowly and rather deliberately a tri-colored wandered right through the Egret’s hunting area. It wasn’t looking for food, and it certainly wasn’t in a hurry. 

Heron wading through my fishing spot? Like I care? [Yes. You really do]Snowy Egret with Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

I regret to say that Snowy threw a bit of a strop. Having been hunched and intent on his hunting, he became distracted and palpably upset. It was just… the heron’s meander right past his beak was a bit to much for any self-respecting egret to tolerate. This is how it went, as the heron moved very slowly forwards…

A bad hair day – but gradually regaining composure…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

Then the heron got out of the water… out of the way. You’d think.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

Not to be outdone, the egret followed behind, no doubt muttering crossly…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 6 (Keith Salvesen)

…and hopped up onto a dead tree stump, where it stood rather forlornlySnowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 9 (Keith Salvesen)

At which point the heron flew off and perched high up on a dead branch. I swear I heard it laugh.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos RH. All anthropomorphic interpretations, too.

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)

Right now, I’m doing daily checks on the indispensable EBIRD CARIBBEAN in relation to the ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH project (and incidentally if you encounter one or more on a beach near you, details would be very welcome – below is what to look out for!).

Piping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

It occurred to me to check out the contention that Abaco is Numero Uno birding destination in the Bahamas (though sadly lacking the flamingoes, except for vagrants; and the Bahama oriole, now extirpated and confined to select areas of Andros). Sure enough, Abaco has 42 out of the top 100 birding hotspots. In the map below, gray pointers indicate a few observations, blue means 50+ and green represents 100+. Nowhere has yet achieved the flame-red pointer – the ultimate hotspot accolade…

Abaco Birding Hotspots Map (eBird)

People often ask where best to go for quality birding on Abaco. The answer depends of course on the season and on what they are after – for example shorebirds or warblers; parrots or absence of parrots and so on. The Abaco 42 are listed below. There are a couple points to make about the hotspot list:

  • There is a degree of duplication, eg Gorda Cay / Castaway Cay being shown as separate entries, as is Angelfish Point / Angel Fish Point
  • Also, the data gathered by eBird is entirely dependent on regular uploads of checklists. Inevitably the birders will mostly be regulars, with their own preferred beats or perhaps with an interest limited to the area where they live. Some records show long gaps – sometimes a couple of years – between reports. So the eBird data can only give an overview, not a precise record of actual observations or birding effort and success. 

Bahama Woodstar male 3.1.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley copy

In very general terms, and assuming a broad birding interest, I would recommend the Treasure Cay area; in and around Marsh Harbour; the stretch east of the Highway that takes in Bahama Palm Shores, the Abaco Neem Farm, Delphi, Crossing Rocks & Gilpin Point; the National Park; and Sandy Point. I’m sure there will be other views, but I am thinking primarily of the visitor who has but a single day to spare from a packed schedule of fishing, swimming, sunbathing, eating and drinking… [nb as a soi-disant photographer I’m not so keen on the dumps and landfill. Yes, the birding can be good. No, I don’t want to feature rubbish in my already rubbish photos…]

American Oystercatcher4.1.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley RH 2

Here’s the eBird list, omitting all the non-Abaconian hotspots. Clicking on the links will take you straight to the relevant location’s latest reports and show some of the species seen there. I haven’t checked every link, but spot-checks suggest they work ok…

3 Treasure Cay GC

4 Abacos–Citrus Farm near Treasure Cay

5 Abaco–Sandy Point

8 Angel Fish Point

10 Marsh Harbour

12 Abaco–Crossing Rocks

13 Abacos–Treasure Cay Dump

14 Abacos–Treasure Cay West Side

18 Abaco Cays IBA–Great Guana Cays

20 Abacos–Treasure Cay Sunset Ridge and vicinity

22 Robert’s nursery, ponds and marls overlook

23 Abaco–Bahama Palm Shores

28 Abaco Cays IBA–Green Turtle Cay

32 Gilpin Point

35 Hope Town, Elbow Cay

37 Big Bird

38 Castaway Cay

41 Man-o-war Cay

44 Abaco National Park IBA

45 Marsh Harbour–Landfill

52 Island Homes–Beach

57 Abaco Beach Resort

60 North Atlantic Abaco Cays IBA

62 North dump (Abaco)

65 Marsh Harbour

69 Cherokee Sound

70 Great Guana Cay

72 Green Turtle Cay Sand Spit

73 Angelfish Point

81 Green Turtle Cay

82 Track north of Hwy

86 Southern Abaco IBA

87 Abaco Neem farm

88 Marsh Harbor Airport

89 Abaco–Crown Haven

91 Little Abaco IBA

92 Abaco–Hole-in-the-Wall

93 Camp Abaco

94 Little Harbour

96 Castaway Cay

97 Cooper’s Town

98 Crossing Rock / Island Homes

Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

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Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, RH

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)


Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)

I’m not going to pretend that these are particularly meritorious bird photos in any way. We were at Gilpin Point pond, always a good place to see birds and now an area that has regular parrot fly-pasts (and hang-around-squawkings). It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora creeping guiltily around the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of all kinds, white-cheeked (bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail. I’ve seen belted kingfishers, bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Always worth a try! One day perhaps I’ll make a checklist… **

A ‘Preening of Pintail’ with a lesser yellowlegs feeding happily (if blurrily) behind themBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

Less than a minute earlier… PHOTOBOMBBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

The photobomb was a complete surprise, but I managed to snap the more elegant landing…Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

** As a postscript, I see that Pericles Maillis posted on eBird his very brief bird count at Gilpin pond and on the beach a couple of days after I posted this. He saw

  • 3 Blue-winged Teal (‘first sighting of bw teal for 2015 migration’)
  • 20 White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Snowy Egret
  • 2 Tricolored Heron
  • 5 Green Heron
  • 2 Killdeer
  • 2 Ruddy Turnstone
  • 10 Laughing Gull
  • 1 Caribbean Dove
  • 8 House Sparrow

Pics: RH

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO

There are a number of birding hotspots on South Abaco (defined loosely for avian purposes as south from Marsh Harbour). Most are attractive places to be; a few (e.g. the town dump) less so, requiring additional skills to avoid taking your long-awaited ‘life bird’ in a pool of grossness…

Always a good bet, Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is definitely worth a visit at almost any time, especially the brackish pond just inland from the shoreline. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…*) and (b) it is private land. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel! At the end of this post is a rough list of birds I have seen at Gilpin, with one or two that I know have also been seen there (photographic evidence!)

*I realise I should say we got a ‘flat’, but to me that would mean we had obtained an apartment. We are indeed “nations divided by a common language” (Attrib variously to Wilde, Shaw & Churchill)

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see it perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans forward, beak closer to the water, more streamlined to look at.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02

As the prey unwittingly approaches the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker to strike…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)03 Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)04

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly. For me and my little Pentax, anyway. But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to look at some Lesser Yellowlegs nearbyGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

I returned a few minutes later. Scanning was still in progress, and the bird started the gradual ‘leaning forward’ process as it sighted a fishGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

Get ready to spearfish…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)10

Epic success for the heron, epic fail for the photographer…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

“Ha ha Mr Human with your funny black clicky thing hanging round the thing that attaches your head to your body. I was too quick for you. Who hasn’t got the hang of shutter speed yet? Eh? I win the fish. I win the game…”Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include Black-necked Stilts, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Sora, hordes of White-cheeked Pintails, Northern Pintails, Lesser Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Turkey Vulture, Smooth-billed Ani, American Kestrel, Bahama Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, Mucovy Duck (pets!)  and – for the first time this year – Green heron. As a bonus, Gilpin has become a regular stop for flocks of Abaco Parrots. Other species found there include American Flamingo, Brown Pelican, DC Cormorants and Limpkin. I’ve no doubt there are shorebirds on the beach such as Wilson’s Plovers, various gulls to be identified, and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds high over the water.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

‘The Hunter’ is a well-known Albert King / Stax song from 1967 with elements reminiscent of many blues songs and lyrics before that. The best known versions are probably the one by Free (‘Tons of Sobs’ 1968), which is un-improvable and definitive; and the doff of the cap by Led Zeppelin towards the end of ‘How Many More Times’… However ‘Pacific Gas and Electric’ made a pretty good stab at the song, also in the late ’60s

RELATED POSTS  

SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

A FACEFUL OF FISH

All photos RH; Music ‘borrowed’  from a CD into iTunes, converted to MP3 and ‘re-borrowed’ for present non-commercial purposes. And it did say “FREE” on it in large letters…